By Lisa Miller, Wife to Marlin, publisher of Plain Values
Someone once told us, “If you are looking around hoping for someone to do something about something, maybe that person is you.”
One size most certainly does not fit all for our family in many regards, so when it comes to education, we do our best to make wise choices based on the needs of our children as individuals. Our oldest son had a few years of homeschooling, several years at a private school, and he finished out and graduated from the public school district. When something ceases to work well or needs must be met, we adjust. Homeschooling has served our family well, and we would be fine continuing to do so, but we long for our kids to have the chance to learn alongside other kids in a community where each person is a valued member bringing their unique gifts to teach and learn from everyone else. When Adelaide reached the middle of her elementary school years, I began to look into school options to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something that could become an amazing opportunity for her. I carefully researched a few private schools in our area and then made some phone calls. Most of the time, that’s as far as it went, as I was very quickly told admission would not be extended to our children.
I was shocked.
It had never occurred to me that our kids would not even be given a chance to enroll in a local private school. After some time, talking with other families, and lots of prayer, we decided to give the public school a try. After all, it had worked out well for our oldest son, so maybe it would be a good fit for Addie.
After one semester, I began homeschooling her again. Our sweet girl was so grateful to be back to learning at home, and she thanked me every morning for the next few months. It broke my heart… and it strengthened my resolve to continue doing the very best I could for each child. We settled back into the routine of homeschooling Adelaide and Bennett and keeping up with Miles, then a busy toddler. For a time, I was content thinking we had done our part to investigate and try other options for education, and we could continue to use a tutor and other specialists to help each child. However, the Lord’s whispers on my heart began to grow like a tiny seed. I had learned to listen to these whispers many years ago as He was building our family through adoption. And I knew that we were being prepared for something; I just didn’t know what that something was. So, I just kept praying and trusting He would show us when the time was right. We continued to work on academic skills as well as getting our hands into the dirt of the gardens, doing daily chores to care for our animals, and involving the kids as much as possible in building and maintaining projects around our little farm.
When I read about Hardison Mill School—the one-room schoolhouse Rory Feek (writer for Plain Values Magazine) built on his farm for his daughter Indiana to attend—it was as if suddenly everything came into focus.
That was it! THAT is what I wanted most for our family. The fact that Rory reimagined what education looked like for his daughter and other children within their community created a vision to make a one-room schoolhouse a reality for our family and for our community. Maybe there were other families looking for the same thing?
Driving past the many Amish one-room schoolhouses dotting the hillsides in our part of rural Ohio, I would ask Marlin these questions:
“Why doesn’t someone start a school like Hardison Mill here?
“Why aren’t there any small schools open to the rest of us who aren’t Amish?”
I even dreamed for a time of the possibility of moving our family to Tennessee so our kids could go to Hardison Mill School and be a part of their unique community of learners. Somewhat reluctantly, I had to agree with Marlin that we are rooted deep here in Ohio. The mantra of our magazine, Plain Values, is “Finding joy in the simple things.” While creating a magazine, a non-profit for orphans and children with special needs, and a one-room schoolhouse isn’t exactly simple, staying rooted in our home community brings a level of simplicity that cannot be found elsewhere, no matter how busy life can get at times. So blooming where we are planted is the current answer for our family rather than attempting to pack everyone up (and all our chickens and animals) to move to another state. It wasn’t long before our “Why doesn’t someone…” changed to, “What if we would build a schoolhouse here on our homestead?”
During my years as a teacher in the public school district, I spent most of the time teaching first grade in a two-room schoolhouse in the small town called (of all things) Charm. It was charming! All my students were Amish, and many were from families who had grown up going to that very same schoolhouse. The idyllic experience of Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables—my two favorite book series from childhood to present—was something I had often idealized but never thought of as a possibility in the present day. To imagine creating a little one-room schoolhouse on our hilltop for our kids to attend with other students and a teacher was exciting and overwhelming at the same time.
At first, Marlin and I cleaned out our barn with the intention of turning it into a little schoolhouse. We thought we might begin small as a homeschool co-op or a hybrid homeschool. Then, I came across a building for sale. Advertised as a former one-room schoolhouse that had been refinished and used as a home office, this tiny building had been built in the 1800s. I dove into reading about the history of the one-room schoolhouses of Coshocton County, and we had the cute little building moved to our hilltop. Since we knew we would need to add to this building, I began to look for old materials to match the character and timeline. It was during this search that I found another one-room schoolhouse for sale in Indiana. The second schoolhouse is much larger. It was built in 1850 and had been saved from demolition. The mortise and tenon hand-hewn beams and other materials had been disassembled and were ready to be moved. We purchased the second schoolhouse, and it was recently brought to Mount Hope, Ohio on a semi-trailer.
Marlin and I both love old buildings with stories and character, so we are thrilled to have the opportunity to build these two historic one-room schoolhouses together to restore them to their original purpose. After consulting with several agencies, we started a nonprofit organization to run the school and created a board of directors. We also determined the best placement for the school is in our front pasture, where we have plenty of space to grow, and we have decided to open as a full-time, non-chartered/non-tax supported private school, registered with the Ohio Department of Education.
Juneberry Hill Schoolhouse is closely modeled after Hardison Mill School. Our mission is to have a multi-age, fully integrated one-room schoolhouse where students can succeed in a community of learners where everyone belongs and can learn from everyone else. Our schoolhouse will purposefully have an enrollment of only 12 students, enabling individual support to be given to students across all levels of academics. We will use books and paper rather than screens, hands-on experiences rather than videos, and our schoolhouse will be a place where the gardens, pastures, and outdoor spaces are just as much a part of our learning classroom as the space within the building.
We ask that you please join us as we pray for the students and families who will join our community of learners, the search team working on finding a teacher, and the builders preparing Juneberry Hill Schoolhouse for our first batch of students. If you want to follow all our updates on the schoolhouse, go see the content page at www.plainvalues.com. If you decide to subscribe to the magazine, be sure to use the code “GAB23” to get 10% off!
Thank you so very much!
As always, may you find joy in the simple things.
Lisa Miller is wife to Marlin and mom to four kids through the blessing of adoption. She loves reading, gardening, cooking for the family from scratch, sewing, canning, and taking care of all the kids, chickens, goats, and other chores on their homestead.